Blue Ribbon Blog

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s blog!

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since our inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised more than $200 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

Please follow our blog to learn more about our organization.

Program Renewal

December 3, 2014
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Make sure you check your mailbox this week! Coming your way are membership program renewal letters for 2015. All Fan Fair, 1854 Society and Jake’s Club members should be receiving details soon. The deadline for membership program renewals isn’t until March 1, but often people like to contribute before the end of the year for tax purposes.
If you aren’t currently a member, check out our programs below and see if you might be interested in joining. Donations to the Blue Ribbon Foundation help preserve and improve the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Fan Fair: For each $150 contribution made to the Fan Fair program, you become eligible to purchase 2 Grandstand concert tickets during a special presale. This gives you the opportunity to reserve your seats before the general public! Casting Crowns will be kicking off the Grandstand line-up in August. More acts will be announced in the spring. 
1854 Society: Funds raised by the 1854 Society helped renovate the Richard L. Easter Museum Complex. In the next year, work will continue on documenting Fair history with new archiving software. Future projects include creating a directory of families that have shown livestock for generations, and dedicating a new display to showcase their contributions to the Fair’s agricultural tradition. Another goal is to restore the old entrance gate from the late 1950's and have it displayed in Heritage Village. The initial fee of $1,854 gives you a number of exclusive benefits during the Fair, and the renewal each subsequent year is just $395 for those same benefits. 
Jake's Club: Experience the VIP lounge in the Jacobson Exhibition Center during the Iowa State Fair. Balcony box seating, comfortable couches, live video feeds from shows around the Fairgrounds and a full bar are a few of the perks. The initial enrollment fee for Jake's Club is $500, and the renewal fee is $100 each year.
If you're a renewing member for any of the programs, be sure to get your donations in by March 1, and if you're looking to join any of the programs above, feel free to contact Drew with questions!
Side note: There are only three weeks to Christmas. Do you have someone on your list that has it all? Help them leave their legacy on the Iowa State Fairgrounds by purchasing the gift of a brick, lamp post, tree, granite paver, a plaque on the donor wall or a gift from one of our other giving programs. For a full list of giving program options, visit
The Foundation held a special brunch for 1854 Society members during the 2014 Fair:
The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Demonstration was just one of the events held in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center during the Fair:
The crowd before one of last year’s Grandstand shows:

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2014
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To celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, I will head back to my hometown to be with family. My grandparents, sisters, and niece will gather at my parents’ house as my dad cooks a big Thanksgiving dinner. As much as I’m looking forward to the meal, I’ve got my eye on the desserts - especially the pie!
One sister’s favorite is peach, the other likes blueberry and we can’t forget the classic pumpkin or apple. I’m hoping for a little bit of each. 
The Iowa State Fair definitely knows about pie. You can get a fresh slice at several food vendors, enter your pie into a baking competition or participate in the pie eating contest (the State Fair Queen participates each year).  The Iowa State Fair Food Department is the largest of any state fair in the country. There are 226 divisions, 883 classes and were over 10,500 entries at this year’s Fair. 
The 17th edition Iowa State Fair Cookbook has 38 different recipes for pie. I think this Trifection Chocolate pie sounds delicious. 
You can wow your holiday guests by making a blue ribbon winning dessert from the Iowa State Fair Cookbook. The cookbook and other Fair merchandise is available in the State Fair Store
While stuffing ourselves with homemade goodies on Thursday, let’s not forget the real reason for Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect time of year to acknowledge and show appreciation for what we are thankful for. The Blue Ribbon Foundation is thankful for our donors, patrons, volunteers, supporters and Iowa State Fair lovers. Without you, there wouldn’t be a Foundation.  
Year after year, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is able to make improvements to the Fairgrounds to help preserve and enhance its structures - thanks to your support. Our work is not only about keeping the Iowa State Fairgrounds beautiful for future generations but also maintaining the traditions and memories of families across the state. 
Personally, I’m thankful for all of the Fair staff members, previous (and future) Foundation interns, and my amazing co-workers. I’m thankful to have a job that I love doing every day.  
From the Iowa State Fair family to yours - Happy Thanksgiving!

Iowa State Fair History

November 18, 2014
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With the chilly temperatures upon us, I’ve spent my day thinking about the warm sunshine of next summer. I’m in the very early stages of planning the 2015 Corndog Kickoff. The Blue Ribbon Foundation staff will meet next week for our first brainstorming session for the July 11th event. Today I looked for inspiration in the Iowa State Fair History Book – Our State Fair, Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story.
The book is filled with information since the Fair’s beginning in 1854. It starts with a section titled “A Grand Tradition” that highlights how the Fair started with details of the ups and downs along the way. 
The next section, “Chasing the Blue Ribbon”, is filled with the competitions and stories of Iowans across the state competing in their favorite contest. From beautiful babies to the ugliest cake – there was something for everyone to participate in.  
The section titled “What A Lineup!” shows pictures of famous stars that have performed on the Grandstand. I’m guessing it may cause a few: “Hey, I saw that band way back when they first started at the Iowa State Fair!”  
The heart of the Iowa State Fair is the undoubtedly the agriculture. The section of the book “The Ag-Extravaganza of Iowa” does an excellent job of summarizing the importance of what makes Iowa one-of-a-kind. 
There is a section of the book devoted to the “Super Structures” on the Fairgrounds. I found this section the most interesting because it involves so much of the Foundation’s work. It gives the history of the very first structure - Pioneer Hall. Today so many of the buildings have improved but also maintained the history and beauty of the original design. 
The final section is titled “Meet you at the Fair” and shows pictures of Fair-Goers enjoying the food and sharing personal stories of their experience. It also highlights Fair staff over the years and the State Fair Board. 
The Iowa State Fair is an important part of Iowa’s heritage and as the book states “it belongs to us all.” Thank you to the Fair-lovers that continue to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s work to keep the Iowa State Fairgrounds beautiful for years to come. 
Side Note: The History Book would make a great holiday gift and is for sale in the State Fair Store for $20. 
There was one short article in the book that especially caught my eye. 
“In 1939, actress (and redhead) Susan Hayward came to the State Fair to help judge the Queen of the Redheads contest, which lasted four days. Twenty-five women participated in the finals in front of the Grandstand. Six of them were awarded official movie screen tests; Queen Margaret Leeper of Waterloo received a free trip to Hollywood where she was Miss Hayward’s guest.”
As a proud redhead myself, I wouldn’t mind seeing this competition come back!

8th Annual Fairgrounds 5K - Recap

November 5, 2014
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Thank you to the participants, volunteers, and sponsors for making Sunday’s 8th annual Fairgrounds 5K a complete success by raising more than $12,000 for the Blue Ribbon Foundation! 
It was windy but the sunshine made for a wonderful fall afternoon. Kids started the event by chasing our cow mascot down Grand Avenue. A total of 80 “future Fairgoers” made their way to the finish line with cheers from the crowd. 
A total of 86 Fair-goers walked the new One Mile route this year. Participants climbed the hill toward the Museum Complex, Expo Hill, walked behind the Agricultural Building, and around the Livestock Pavilion. The route showcased the beautiful Fairgrounds and current construction projects. Walkers also answered trivia questions to win prizes. Can you answer these questions? 
1. What is the theme for the 2015 Iowa State Fair?
2. During the 2014 Fair, what animal weighed 507 lbs., breaking the previous record?
3. How many years has the Iowa State Fair Queen Pageant (in its current format) been held?
4. Name one headline act form this past Fair’s Grandstand line-up. 
5. What is the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s annual fundraising event held in July?
6. What is the money used for that is raised by the Blue Ribbon Foundation?
The 5K race route was a challenge for the 220 runners making their way up the campgrounds hills. Volunteers stationed around the route did an excellent job of cheering on the participants. Runners could learn some “Fun Fair Facts” along the route. Did you know…
  • The record for the Cow Chip Throwing Contest is 176 feet set in 1995.
  • On average, 24 cows are milked daily during the Fair.
  • George Strait has performed in the Grandstand 9 times.
Athletes of all ages proudly crossed the finish line after running in the campgrounds, past the Cultural Center, around the Outdoor Arena, animal barns, Grandstand track, and along Grand Avenue. Click here for official 5K race times and the results page. 
Participants enjoyed bananas, muffins, yogurt, and of course Fair Squares, corndogs, and beer after the race. Sunday was a great way to spend the afternoon with your family on the Fairgrounds. 
As always, the Foundation is looking to improve. We appreciate any and all feedback. Please feel free to mail the evaluation to the Foundation office or email your comments to Drew.
Since the Foundation started the Fairgrounds 5K in 2007, the event has raised more than $75,000 for improvements to the Iowa State Fairgrounds. One additional and very special announcement was made on Sunday. The 9th annual Fairgrounds 5K will be held during the 2015 Iowa State Fair - more details TBA!
Thanks again for supporting the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation!

Time to Move

October 22, 2014
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Fall is an excellent time of year to get moving outdoors before the winter weather sneaks up on us. For me, the month of October flew by. I can't believe next week is already Halloween! Most evenings the last couple weeks, I’ve seen farmers working in the fields. I’ve also seen people in the neighborhood finishing up yard work, raking leaves or planting mums. 
The weather looks beautiful for the next two weeks. (In the 70’s this weekend!) My challenge to you is to get up and move!
The Blue Ribbon Foundation has the perfect thing to add to your “move” list. Move on over to the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Sunday, November 2 for the 8th annual Fairgrounds 5K, presented by West Bank. Runners can compete in a race down Grand Avenue, through the campgrounds and around the livestock barns. Walkers can see how beautiful the Fairgrounds are in the fall by walking the new one mile route. Kids are invited to “Chase the Cow” along Grand Avenue in front of the Grandstand. 
If you only come to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in August – you might be in for a surprise. The Fairgrounds look completely different than those busy 11 days during the summer. The Fairgrounds 5K is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the Fairgrounds’ park-like setting without the hustle and bustle of the Fair. It’s sure to be a wonderful day for the entire family. 
With all the moving – you’ll need to eat! The Iowa State Fair is known for its food and the 5K is no exception. After the race, participants can enjoy a corndog and Fair Square. (We will even have beer after the race!)
The proceeds from the Fairgrounds 5K go toward future renovations of the Fairgrounds. Along this year’s race route, you can see some of the current construction projects.  The Blue Ribbon Foundation’s goal is to sustain our beautiful Fairgrounds for future generations. By participating and donating to the Fairgrounds 5K, you can help accomplish our mission.
This weekend I will be doing some actual moving. (The not fun, packing and hauling boxes kind of moving.) I’ll be getting the work done now, so I can enjoy the Fairgrounds 5K the following weekend with the rest of the participants. 
Our staff has a busy week ahead getting everything ready for the race. We will stuff race bags, mark the route, put out the Walker Trivia & Fun Fair Fact signs, and much more. The Blue Ribbon Foundation will be on the move and ready for you to join us!
Register today for the Fairgrounds 5K ($30), 1 Mile Walk ($20), or Chase the Cow Kids’ Run ($5).

All About Sports

October 15, 2014
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Over the weekend, I attended a wedding in northern Iowa. Some of my summer weddings interfered with my busy Fair filled schedule, so it was nice to be able to attend the day’s events without rushing back to Des Moines. 
The couple is big baseball fans and the groom is actually a high school coach.  They incorporated baseball into their special day. The wedding announcements featured custom made baseball jerseys, the reception had baseball inspired decorations and there were even Cracker Jack party favors. It was a fun filled night that reflected the couples love for each other and the game. 
Fall is a great time for sports. Baseball fans gear up for the World Series. High school, college and professional football seasons are in full swing. Basketball has even starting playing some preseason games. 
Sports or athletics probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the Iowa State Fair but you may be surprised.
During the 2014 Fair, the Susan Knapp Amphitheater hosted the weight lifting competition. The stage was filled with men and women showcasing their strength with the bench press and deadlift contest. Special to this year’s Fair was “Fitness on the Hill” which got Fair-goers up and moving on Expo Hill with activities like Zumba, yoga and tai chi. Opening ceremonies began with a 1K walk along the Grand Concourse. Throughout the Fair, guests were able to explore the Fairgrounds with a self-guided walking tour
There will be more exercise happening at the Fairgrounds on November 2.  Fair-lovers are invited to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation for our annual Fairgrounds 5K, One Mile Walk, and Chase the Cow Kids’ Run.  This is your opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Fairgrounds a little differently than August. All fitness levels and ages are encouraged to lace up the running (or walking) shoes and join us!
With all the exercise, we haven’t forgotten about some of the Fair favorites.  Corndogs, Fair Squares, and beer will be served after the race. 
The event is less than three weeks away! Register online today for the 5K ($20), One Mile Walk ($20), or Kids’ Run ($5) - all while supporting the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s mission of renovating and preserving the Iowa State Fairgrounds. 


October 8, 2014
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“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou
This quote is very fitting for the Blue Ribbon Foundation. There is no doubt the Foundation’s staff and volunteers are absolutely full of creativity. We are constantly thinking of new ways to engage Fair-goers and potential donors to accomplish our mission of renovating and preserving the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Keeping our 128 year old Fairgrounds in top condition for future generations is pretty exciting work! 
The Foundation's creativity is in full force with Iowa State Fair merchandise. The State Fair Store is filled with items that are sold during each year’s Fair. It takes some serious brainstorming to design the new shirts, charms, ornament and plaques to create these one-of-a-kind souvenirs. 
By far, the annual Corndog Kickoff Benefit Auction and Fair Food Grazing Party requires the most of our creativity juices. With a theme, decorations, auction packages, (the list goes on and on) the Foundation spends months preparing for the massive fundraiser.  It’s a wonderful night for attendees to gear up for the Fair while supporting those future renovation projects. 
Each of the staff members works hard year round to make their area of the Fair bigger and better than the previous year. With sponsorships, merchandise, membership/giving programs – there are always improvements to be made and we are committed to creatively making them happen.  
This week my creative efforts have been spent making a new one mile walk route for the upcoming Fairgrounds 5K. This is the 4th year for the walk and I wanted to give the participants a change of scenery. This year’s walk route will travel up the hill toward the Richard L. Easter Museum Complex, around Pioneer Hall, through the Hy-Vee Fun Forest, and around the Livestock Pavilion. The route highlights some of the renovated buildings and current projects happening on the grounds. The one mile walk is the perfect way to participate in the Fairgrounds 5K without running the race.
Sign up today for the run, walk or kids’ run on Sunday, November 2.
Side note: As innovative thinkers as the Foundation staff is, we are always looking for creative people to join our team. Let us know if you would like to volunteer or (college students) intern with the Foundation for a summer. 
2014 Fairgrounds 5K Run and One Mile Walk Route:
Group of Creative Blue Ribbon Foundation Volunteers:

Celebrating the Years

October 1, 2014
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As I flipped my calendar this morning, I could clearly see that October is a month to celebrate in my family. Today is my Grandma’s 83rd birthday -followed by my mom, niece, and sister’s birthdays all this month. 
I will travel back to my hometown to celebrate my niece’s third birthday this coming weekend. This week I’ve been buying presents, planning decorations (Batman themed), and getting my camera ready.  It is sure to be a wonderful weekend full of entertaining 3 year old moments, family jokes, and lots of cake. 
In 2011, the Iowa State Fair celebrated the Butter Cow’s 100th birthday by eating cake during the opening ceremonies of the Fair.  Next year, the Sheep Barn will celebrate its 100th anniversary of being part of the Fairgrounds.
I think it's amazing that some of the structures on the Fairgrounds are so old and still standing. The Blue Ribbon Foundation was created in 1993 to conduct a major capital campaign for the renovation and preservation of our 128 year old Fairgrounds.  What are the Blue Ribbon Foundation funds supporting right now? 
The Fairview Stage was built in time for the 1982 Fair and is located west of the Cultural Center. This fall, crews demolished the existing stage to build the new MidAmerican Energy Stage. This structure will include fixed seating on a concrete surface, dressing rooms and a loading dock. New public restrooms adjacent to the stage will benefit the entire Fun Forest area. The brand new stage will be ready for the 2015 Fair. 
During October, staff will continue with regular maintenance on buildings and the Youth Inn will start its second phase of renovations. The list of upcoming and future projects is impressive. Fair-goers can continue to be proud of their Iowa State Fair.   
The Blue Ribbon Foundation has the perfect opportunity for Fair-goers to see these current projects and the historic buildings on the Fairgrounds. (August can be distracting with all of the people, entertainment and food.) Join the Foundation during the annual Fairgrounds 5K for the race, 1 mile walk, or Chase the Cow Kids’ Run. We are excited to “celebrate” our 8th annual Fairgrounds 5K, presented by West Bank, on Sunday, November 2.
Mark your calendar and register today! 

State Fair Crowds

September 23, 2014
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With attendance over a million each year, the Iowa State Fair brings in quite the daily crowd.  As a staff member working the Fair, you learn an entirely new way of weaving in and out of Fairgoers. 
My work day started before most of the early-bird Fair attendees arrived. One perk - I was able to find donor’s bricks at various locations without getting interrupted by foot traffic. Throughout the day, the nice temperatures would bring more people through the gates. After the second day, I figured about the fastest and most efficient path to do my job. 
There were at least three different times during the Fair when the crowd itself was something to see.  Every morning the Fairgrounds would literally stop for the singing of the National Anthem. People stopped walking, got quiet and would pay attention to the Star Spangled Banner.  It gave me goose bumps watching the entire Fairgrounds salute our country. 
Walking by Pella Plaza was an extra challenge this year with the giant American Gothic statue. The towering structure was constantly surrounded by a mob of photographers. I’m pretty sure I photobombed a few family pictures. 
One of the most exciting crowds for me was during the Florida Georgia Line concert. The sold out Grandstand show was loud, entertaining, and overall a great time. At one point during the concert, the crowd shined cell phones to look like a sea of lights.  Super cool!
The Fairgrounds covers more than 400 acres of land but most of the time, walking down Grand Avenue or around Rock Island is congested. Wouldn’t it be nice to explore the Fairgrounds without zigzagging among the crowd? 
The Blue Ribbon Foundation invites you to our 8th annual Fairgrounds 5K! This fall the leaves will start to change colors, construction projects are fully underway, and the Fairgrounds have recovered from the 1,015,902 visitors.
The 5K run, 1 mile walk and Kids’ run will take place on Sunday, November 2 at 1:00 pm. This is the perfect time to enjoy Fair scenery - without the Fair hustle and bustle - in beautiful fall weather!
Register today on the Blue Ribbon Foundation website
This is your chance to join the Fairgrounds 5K crowd to support the Blue Ribbon Foundation. 

2014 Fair Highlight - Woodcarver's Auction

August 27, 2014
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Let the 2014 "Amazingly Amusing" Iowa State Fair hightlights begin. First up - the Woodcarver's Auction.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is proud to announce that the 2014 Woodcarver’s Auction raised a record breaking total of $37,915 to help preserve and renovate the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Every year Fairgoers from all around the world come to the Iowa State Fair to see the exhilarating art of chainsaw carving. The Foundation would like to thank the chainsaw carvers; A.J. Lutter, Gary Keenan, and Andy Klindt for their outstanding talent in the creation of the woodcarvings. 
A few highlights from this year’s auction included a variety of animals carved from pine, red cedar, walnut and elm logs.  The very popular college mascots, Herky and Cy, were auctioned off at the same time showcasing a friendly competition of the in-state rivalry. In addition to the woodcarvings, champion meats were up for bid during the sale, including ham, bacon and dried beef. 
The annual Woodcarver’s Auction takes place in the Cattle Barn’s Penningroth Media Center on the final Sunday of the Iowa State Fair. The proceeds from the Woodcarver’s Auction have been donated to the Blue Ribbon Foundation since 1993 totaling more than $600,000. Thank you again to the woodcarvers, Al Conover (auctioneer), Mike Sorensen, Tom Rooney, Ross Butler (Ringmen) and each donor that purchased one of this year's woodcarvings.
Thank you for supporting the Blue RIbbon Foundation.